If you stop to think about it, the survival of a newborn calf is a miracle.
After living for 9 months in a zero-gravity, fluid-filled, temperature-controlled environment with his nutrients automatically provided through an umbilical cord, a calf is suddenly and forcefully expelled onto cold, hard ground. Within minutes he is up on his legs and searching for the new source of his nutrients – his mother’s udder.
A human baby has a similar experience of expulsion – but he is born into another temperature-controlled environment, where he is lovingly caught in a warm blanket, and delivered directly to a breast.
This human baby can go nowhere on his own for months! He is carried from one place to another; picked up often and held to the breast (or a damned rubber nipple thrust in his mouth) multiple times a day; he lives indoors, and is covered by a blanket.
It is 30o today in Montana, with 6” of fresh, wet snow. And yet that calf hits the ground, struggles to his feet, and finds a teat. Once he is dried off and has a belly full of milk, he is good to go. In two days he can outrun a man afoot.
If the calf has a good mama, she immediately goes to licking off that months-old slime that permeates his haircoat, and she stands patiently while he searches up and back along her underline until he finally connects. The job of the cowboy is to assure that every calf is successfully expelled, licked off by his mother, and finds that life-giving fluid.
But the title of this piece is straw.
Most of you know that hay is forage that has been cut, dried, baled, and stored. It is harvested in the summer when there is an excess, and is spread out in the winter when there is a dearth.
Straw is slightly different. It is the stalk of the plant which is harvested for grain -usually wheat, barley, and oats. This is cut in the fall after the plant is mature and has turned yellow. The valued part of the plant is separated in the ‘combine’. The grain is hauled one way, and the remainder is baled up as straw.
While good hay may be as high as 15% protein, straw has had its primary nutrient package removed. Straw is likely to be around 5% protein. It’s not particularly good feed.
In the winter, we put out straw when the temperature drops below zero. The cows eat it, and the inefficiency of digestion helps keep them warm. Whatever is left on the ground helps to insulate their underside.
In the spring, we put it out for the purpose of keeping the cattle up off the cold, wet snow and mud. The cows find it quickly.
What is amazing is that a 24-hour old calf can seek out that nice warm bed, and propel himself to it!